Terrorist hunt hits campuses

October 5, 2001

German universities are being compelled to hand over student registration data to state officials under new regulations that aim to identify "sleeper" terrorists who could have been involved in the terrorist attacks on the United States.

Investigators are comparing university data with statistics from state immigration authorities and residents' registration records in a computer-aided profiling process.

Profiling, which was developed by the federal criminal police in the 1970s to investigate German terror groups, must be authorised by interior ministers of the 16 states or sanctioned by a court.

The first state to order profiling was Hamburg, where at least three of the suspected suicide bombers were enrolled as students. All the other states have followed suit.

In Berlin, universities have been asked to provide investigators with personal information about students from Arab countries, including their religious affiliation, marital status and employment history.

Berlin student representatives claimed that this was blaming all Arabs for the crimes of a few.

A spokesman for Berlin Technical University said: "We supplied the information only with a bad stomach."

Klaus Landfried, president of the Conference of University Rectors (HRK), said he supported universities handing over such data in the present climate.

"Evidently this is a case of support for the state in the interests of the rule of law," he said. "However, I would prefer to see a similar solution to that of the US, where students who register at universities also register with the immigration office."

Professor Landfried said the problem facing universities was not "students who are terrorists, but people who hide behind student status". He said there was little that higher education administrations could do to protect themselves against being misused by such people, beyond "good tutoring and student counselling".

Some commentators claim the relative anonymity of student life in Germany - and the fact that many people remain formally registered as students for years to continue enjoying student social privileges without attending lectures - offers prime conditions for people preparing acts of terror.

Professor Landfried said the HRK had long been discussing better ways of monitoring student behaviour "to ensure that people who reap student privileges have a duty to study".

"Unfortunately, some universities - particularly in humanities departments - do not support this. Perhaps it will come now because of these latest events. But it could never be a guarantee against covert fanaticism and premeditated murderous activity," he said.

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